Platelets, or thrombocytes are disc-like fragments present in blood, and play a vital role in blood clotting and wound healing. An abnormally low count of platelets, less than 150,000/μL, is termed thrombocytopenia. This term is derived from the Greek word 'Thrombos' which means 'to clot', and the Latin word 'penia' which means 'reduction'.
Under normal conditions, platelets are produced in the bone marrow, and are destroyed within the body in about ten days. At this rate, 10% of the total platelet count is lost every day. However, due to several ailments, the bone marrow fails to produce the required number of platelets, or the body abnormally destroys more number of platelets, leading to a drastic reduction in their count. The following paragraphs will help to understand this condition in detail.
Common Signs and Symptoms
- Excessive or unexplained bruising
- Petechiae (superficial bleeding in skin)
- Severe bleeding that does not stop immediately
- Abnormal or heavy menstrual bleeding
- Purpura in forearms
- Bleeding gums
Symptoms of Gestational Thrombocytopenia (GT)
GT accounts for about 75% of the cases of thrombocytopenia in pregnant women. Although, the condition is mostly asymptomatic, easy bruising, petechiae, epitaxis, and bleeding gums may be experienced. GT does not pose any risk for both, the mother and the fetus. The newborn has a normal or slightly reduced platelet count.
Symptoms of Heparin-induced Thrombocytopenia (HIT)
Heparin, is a medication used in treating disorders that affect blood clotting, and may lead to a decreased platelet count. Type I HIT is the relatively common, non-immune form, whereas type II HIT is a serious blood disorder that leads to many health complications. It may lead to:
- Chest pain
- Breathing problems
- Skin bruises
- Painful and/or swollen limbs
- Slurred speech
- Vision problems
- Bleeding gums
- Rapid heart rate
Three major sets of conditions that lead to a low platelet count, have been enlisted below.
Diseases Causing an Increase in the Breakdown of Platelets
Platelet destruction may occur in the bloodstream (intravascular breakdown), or in the spleen and liver (extravascular). This may be a result of the following conditions:
- Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, where the immune system of the body attacks and destroys the platelets.
- Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases.
- Bacteremia that leads to destruction of platelets.
- Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), a rare disease where small blood clots appear throughout the body.
- Hemolytic uremic syndrome, another rare disease that causes destruction of red blood cells, reduction of platelets, and disruption in kidney function.
Diseases Leading to Less production of Platelets
- Bone marrow cancer
- Cirrhosis of liver
- Aplastic anemia
- Folate deficiency
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Bone marrow infection (rare)
- GT during pregnancy
- Drugs like heparin
Mild thrombocytopenia do not need any specific treatment, and the condition resolves on its own. However, in case of severe symptoms, it becomes imperative to identify and treat the underlying cause. The treatment options include blood transfusion, and use of medications that suppress the immune system in case of autoimmune diseases. If you have any further doubts or queries, it is advisable to consult your health care provider. It is important to diagnose the underlying condition, as it may be as serious as cancer or autoimmune diseases.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.